As a self-proclaimed “jerkoff that’ll never take work off,” Kanye West probably doesn’t give too much consideration to taking life at a more relaxed tempo. But a highly specialized SoundCloud account called Slow Down Kanye forces the hip-hop mogul to do exactly that. As a producer and performer, West has built a musical empire on a foundation of sampled pop and R&B songs, many of which have been sped up for effect. The resulting high-pitched, Chipmunks-esque sound has practically become West’s signature over the years, both on his own records and those he’s produced for others. What Slow Down Kanye does is take West-produced tracks and play them at the original speed of the songs being sampled. That way, the samples sound normal, but it’s the rapping that sounds weird. Here, for instance, is the account’s version of “Dip-Set Forever,” a track produced by West for Cam’ron in 2004.
And here, for comparison, is the song as West intended, complete with squeaky vocals.
Thanks to Slow Down Kanye, the spotlight is put back on the 1979 song “Forever” by R&B singer Chuck Cissel. Now Cissel sounds like a human being again instead of a cartoon character. But there’s a downside, too: Cam’ron, his voice impossibly low, now sounds like a demon-possessed Barry White.
A project like this is an opportunity to think about how music is transformed (for good or ill) when it is sampled. Is West elevating or denigrating the material he borrows? Take, for example, “Good Morning.” This track from West’s 2007 Graduation is built around a sped-up sample from Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
In the Slow Down Kanye version, John is allowed to sing in his normal range, but West sounds like a toy robot whose batteries are about to die.
And here’s how the original sample from 1975 sounds in context. The key passage occurs at about the 1:43 mark. Better? Worse?
For those who want to explore this topic further, the entire five-song playlist is available below.